I’m so done defending Kanye.

I know what you are thinking. “You defended Kanye??” See, readers, one of my biggest faults is that I defend things that are often very difficult to defend, sometimes even when they don’t want to be defended. This may be one of my best characteristics and greatest flaws, because sometimes there is no subtext, or a greater analysis, or a reason, or a structural cause, sometimes someone is just unforgivable, plain and simple.

We shall put Kanye West in that category. I defended Kanye for a long time because I really like his music and I felt he was self-deprecating enough that I could forgive him for his shortcomings when it came to gender, or at least look past them in the service of his greater contribution to hip hop. I made such an art out of my feminist hip-hop maintenance, strategically enjoying what I could in hip-hop, while ignoring or analyzing those pieces that didn’t serve me, while recognizing the very current role that the juxtaposition of race and gender play in how we consume images of black masculinity. But I think I got beat out at my own game and I started believing in things that were basically unbelievable.

Trigger warning and NSFW

Kanye’s representation of women is unbelievable and it is only getting worse. With the leak of his video “Monster,” he takes it to the next level, filling the screens with white dead model corpses and black female vampires, zombies and she-wolves. The imagery is violent, intentionally, after all the song is called “Monster.” Naima from Postbougie (by way of Racialicious) points out that we should not be surprised when violent lyrics are accompanied by visual violence. And I kind of loved this track when the album came out, but was mainly impressed by Nicki Minaj’s verse on it who is also the least offensive part of the video. While she might temporarily disrupt the fantasy world of hanging dead white girls, and grotesque, aggressive black women, it is only a moment, while everyone else on the track hangs their head in complicity.

I get that Kanye is calling himself a monster and I get that he is trying to be shocking, but I have great contention with this actually being a new frontier in music or art. What frustrates me most about Kanye is that he seeks (or rather hopes) to be avant-garde, artsy, cutting edge, something different and new. He hopes to be subtle in the way he characterizes women, obscured or carried by his almost seamless production. But his painful redundancy of woman hate and race politics is everything but subtle. Disturbing, violent or just overtly sexualized representations of women is the oldest trick in the hip hop book, but has taken on new flair and currency in his post-gangsta hip hop imagination. Sexist portrayals of women are the same only now they are “artistic”, post-modern, fractured, racialized and hauntingly disturbing, as opposed to just obviously disturbing or less nefarious and just a little bit annoying. Also, the strategic ways that these depictions are racialized have a historic resonance to them. He’s not transcending narratives of race and gender, he’s repeating them.

Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a world where women are dead models that hang from ceilings or are hybrid animal/human, white women are passive and/or dead, black women are aggressive woman-beasts. Kanye is revered, despite his self-hate and egomania, showing us not how edgy he is, but really his complete inability to truly evolve as an artist (correction: as a person). If he really wants to take the scene by storm, he should treat women like humans, that’ll shock ‘em.

Join the Conversation

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I don’t think he’s intelligent enough to really make a statement, at least not in the way he thinks he is. In the meantime, I suppose I will continue to ignore him.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    When I first saw this, I wasn’t sure if Kanye had just now discovered the goth/fetish subculture, the Cinema of Transgression, or just horror movies in general. None of which I suppose really addresses the gender question.

    I’ll admit, I’m partial to monster-images of women. (I’ve made a little niche drawing or portraying female devils) I didn’t find them “grotesque”, at least no more so than the male monsters in the video holding severed heads and such (also white. Moreso than the genders of the “monster” characters, I noticed most victims in the video, except the dualistic Nikki Minaj, are white). Society has a collective, unconscious fear of the woman it can’t control or subdue, to make them “monsters”. And the women characters revel in it! Vampires are tied in to blood, the most primal force in the human body. She-wolves similarly are connected to the primal, to nature, animal power. And though they’re not in the video, Devils just outright reject all society holds sacred, that’s what makes devils of them! Zombies? Hmmm, they’re a little tougher since I see zombies as indicative of mindless conformity and consumerism, the antithesis of these other kinds of monsters. Maybe they’re just in there because they’re trendy at the moment.

    I do wonder what is the correlation between all the people(women and men) portrayed as victims though? As I noticed previously, the corpses are caucasian. What is being said with this. The hanging white dead women are all very thin, almost androgynous in appearance. Is there some sort of rejection at hand of what the predominant mainstream culture idealizes? (Then again, Nikki Minaj likes to bill herself as the “Black Barbie” so I may be kind of reaching here.)

  • http://feministing.com/members/lbd9/ Lauren

    Thanks Kanye, for making my job easier. You see, I am in the process of planning a 2 hour training on rape culture, and analyzing popular media will be part of it. And now I have a new video to add to the list. Ugh. Disgusting.

  • lmarvin88

    Kanye West (1996-2010)

    Offensive to some, hilarious to others, Kanye West lives in the memories of us all. Whether you loved or hated Kanye, no one can deny the great contributions the man made to hip-hop. Producer, rapper, singer, Kanye did it all. He had great talent, but also great hubris. This aspect of his personality eventually lead to his carelessness. In 2005 Kanye’s ailment began threatening his career. As he struggled to regain his strength, he had many ups and downs. Last September, it seemed he was back on his feet when he revealed to the world his new song, “Runaway.” Unfortunately, this spurt of energy did not last long. His carelessness has finally overtaken him, as is evident in this new video release for the song “Monster.” Kanye West is dead.

    Before I close, let us remember some of the fonder moments of Kanye West’s life and career:

    First, one of my favorite videos ever made for Kanye West’s music:
    “Flashing Lights” produced by Spike Lee
    { http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ila-hAUXR5U }
    Though Kanye did not make this video hmself, the production of this song is one small example of Kanye’s talent. Spike Lee puts a new spin on the meaning of the song, whose lyrics are otherwise sub-par.

    Second, my other favorite Kanye video–as well as one of my favorite Kanye songs:
    “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” starring Will Oldham and Zach Galifianakis
    { http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSpCf8-AE94 }
    I don’t know who exactly created this video, but it is hilarious. And though Kanye’s lyricism is not always as impressive as his producing, I am quite fond of this song’s lyrics.

    With that, let us all bow our heads.

    Kanye, we loved you once, and you will always be missed. May we meet again someday.